Deerfield parents convicted of allowing a homecoming night drinking party that was blamed for a crash that killed two teens were sentenced Wednesday to jail time, fines and community service.
The trial of Jeffrey and Sara Hutsell has shone a harsh glare on teen drinking and left families on edge as they prepared for this weekend's Deerfield High School homecoming.
"Parents are scared," said Vicki Ettelson, the mother of a Deerfield junior.
She said the Hutsell case changed the way some parents looked at teen drinking, from being a rite of passage to being something that could have grave consequences for them, as well as their kids.
"I think that parents are going to be more alert and more vigilant in monitoring what their children are doing," she said.
The issue came into dramatic focus at Wednesday's sentencing hearing.
"Two teens lost their lives because of the environment the Hutsells created in their home," said Assistant State's Atty. Christen Bishop.
Bishop argued for jail time, saying the deaths of the two teens could have been prevented.
But the Hutsells' friends told of the parents' contributions to church and the community.
"No one is asking that they not pay a penalty. They have paid a huge penalty since this all came to light," said Michael Kiss, a longtime friend of the couple. "I would hope that the court would consider a lifetime as opposed to one moment."
In the end, Judge Christopher Stride called the Hutsells' actions "a mistake ... that will resonate for a lifetime."
He ordered Sara Hutsell to serve 18 months of probation, 250 hours of public service, pay a $500 fine and donate $1,000 each to Students Against Drunk Driving and the Lake County Children's Advocacy Center. He ordered her to serve 30 days in a work-release program but stayed that part of the sentence.
Jeffrey Hutsell also got 30 days of work-release, but the judge stayed all but 14 days. He will be allowed to travel for work while serving his sentence. He also was sentenced to 18 months of probation, 100 hours of service and similar fines as his wife. Both were ordered not to have alcohol in their home when minors are present and must attend victim-impact panels.
The Oct. 13 crash that killed Ross Trace and Danny Bell, both 18, occurred a short distance from the Hutsells' home and triggered efforts by police, school officials and parent groups to prevent another tragedy. They've held parent coffees, assemblies and classroom discussions and promised to crack down on parent scofflaws.
But uncertainty lingers about how to fix the problem.
"I have no idea," said Taylor Lustig, 17, a senior. "A lot of times, the teachers come to us, trying to pry solutions from us as though we're just not telling them. ... I understand why they're trying, but I just don't know if it's working."
Still, she conceded, "You can't not try either."
The deaths of Trace and Bell caused a lot of grief. Trace, a senior from Riverwoods, was a popular pole vaulter and soccer player, while Bell, a 2006 Deerfield graduate, had a passion for fixing cars and planned to attend an automotive school. Toxicological tests showed that Bell, the driver, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.132, well above the 0.08 driving limit for adults. Trace had smoked marijuana before he died.
Within a day of the accident, authorities said they intended to hold accountable any adults who played a role.
Parents sentenced for teen drinking
Mother avoids jail, father gets 14 days
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